Franklin Park Zoo is planting an organic garden of produce, herbs and other plantings for the zoo’s animals to eat and play with.
Harry Liggett, the zoo’s manager of horticulture and grounds, told the Gazette that this year’s plantings will include buckwheat, Swiss chard, basil, corn, turnip, pumpkins and others. The garden will also feature perches for red-tailed hawks and owls, birds of prey that already visit the zoo’s grounds.
Many of the plants chosen were selected to encourage natural pest-eating bugs like ladybugs and hoverflies to make their homes in the garden. Turnips in particular, Liggett said, are a great choice for that purpose.
But not all the planting choices are strictly functional—many are flowering plants and herbs, which will keep the garden blooming from early spring through the fall, Liggett said.
The two garden plots, one 50-foot by 40-foot and the other 50-foot by 30-foot, were prepared during National Volunteer Week, April 6 through 13, and the first seeds will go in early May. All the work will be done by volunteers, including zoo teen volunteers, Boy Scouts and gardening groups, as part of a push to further include the community in the zoo’s operations, Liggett said.
During a Gazette visit April 14, volunteers received a lecture on the benefits of natural pest control and how to encourage it in their own gardens before heading out to finish clearing the zoo’s plots.
“Part of our mission is to teach sustainability and a co-existence within our ecosystem,” Liggett said.
While the garden is in an area en route to the giraffe-feeding platform and usually off-limits to patrons, it will be accessible during giraffe-feeding hours.
This year’s garden project was expanded from a pilot program started last year.